Reuters – Texas ranchers worked overtime to haul water and hay to cattle to keep them alive during a freak winter storm, but some cows succumbed to unusual icy temperatures that also killed chickens, idled meat plants and threatened crops.
The deaths of baby cows in the top U.S. cattle state and struggles to care for surviving livestock were the latest challenges for ranchers who over the past year have dealt with COVID-19 cutting demand for meat at restaurants and shuttering slaughterhouses.
In Texas, home to more than 13 million cattle, ranchers were spending long, cold hours breaking up ice in water tanks and on frozen ponds so animals have something to drink. Icy conditions have turned unwinterized diesel fuel into a useless gel in tractors. Ranchers were using gasoline-powered pickup trucks to transport hay that cattle can eat and use for warm bedding.
Kaylin Isbell, a rancher in Florence, Texas, said a few cows and sheep had died after birth. Babies are particularly vulnerable to the shock of the cold when they leave their mothers’ warm wombs covered in fluid. Isbell said her mother-in-law took newly born sheep into a spare bedroom in her home to keep them warm.
The cold will also kill oats Isbell planted for young cattle to graze on, she said. As a result, Isbell said she will need to sell the animals earlier than expected, reducing her profit margins.
Ranchers nationwide were already facing higher feed costs as corn and soybean prices soared to multi-year highs.
“We just keep going,” Isbell said. “That’s all you can do.”
In Whitesboro, Texas, fifth-generation rancher Austin Miles was filling a red 300-gallon tank with water from a hose at his parents’ home two to three times a day and shuttling it to cattle to drink. The pond they would normally drink from froze, he said.
“This is extreme for us,” Miles said. “Our infrastructure was just not quite set up for these prolonged cold periods.”
The storm killed at least 21 people across four states, and temperatures remained 20° to 35° below average across parts of the central and southern United States for days.